GSA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, USA - 2016

Paper No. 38-9
Presentation Time: 4:20 PM


BURNS, Scott F., Department of Geology, Portland State University, PO Box 751, Portland, OR 97207-0751,

I am an engineering geologist with 46 years of experience, and for the last 25 years have had the pleasure to work on many court cases involving mainly landslides as an expert witness. I am a RG and CEG in Oregon and an LG in Washington. Here are a few tidbits to help others be great expert witnesses. Landslides so many times end up in lawsuits because they are not covered under normal homeowner’s insurance so people sue! First important thing to do is to get registered if you live in one of the 31 states that have registration. The first thing the opposing lawyer will try to do is to reduce your credibility, and if you are not registered, they will ask the judge to not allow you to testify. Second, work with your lawyer – find out what you cannot say. Use them as a coach. In landslide cases, for instance, you cannot mention that they are not insurable. Third, go over all questions that they will ask you. Sometimes you have to help them with the phrasing of the question to get the answer you want to give. Fourth, always follow the orders of the judge and do not talk to any of the jury. Fifth, make sure that you get to hear the opposing side’s expert witness. This is to prevent the opposing side’s geologist from bending the truth a little. If they do bend the truth, let your lawyer know about it. Sixth, always answer to the jury and be succinct. Seventh, know everything in your briefcase because in some courtrooms, the other side is allowed to see everything you have and will question you on it. Eighth, I recommend that you do not have a geologist on the jury – they have the knowledge you want, but sometimes they come up with their own ideas and derail your story. Remember, you know more on the subject than any of the lawyers so do not be intimidated. Also, many cases never go to court and are either settled outside of court, they go to an arbitration, or one of the sides believes that there is not enough data to support their side and they back down. Good luck!